Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Teaching My Fingers to Fight -

Blessed be the Lord, my strength, who teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. - Psalms 1"44

On my last trip out West, I took Big Bro to Breakfast one morning while Dad was at the doctor. Not feeling so good, he wasn't sure about going, but he went, if only to please me.  Before we dug into our plates we prayed. As we bowed our heads, the entrance door opened,with a waft of cold air and light arriving with the murmur of pouring rain. I looked up. I noticed the people at the next table were not looking at the door, but rather, at our table, either the gun on the hip of my dark blue pants, or our prayer. They seemed more intent on our action of prayer.

I was born to a Catholic mother. As my regular readers know, I  was taken in from foster care and later adopted, by an older couple in a small lumber town that was probably 80% Scandinavian. Their ancestors came west via Minnesota and North Dakota and Indiana after arriving in America, both of their parents originally  homesteading in Montana. My Mom's mother was from Sweden, her Dad form Norway so the Lutheran church is what we were raised in. And so, I spent my early early years with the stories of Lutheran Basement Church Women, creamed peas and toast, and that bastardized offspring of a can of cream of mushroom soup and leftovers, the Lutheran Supper Hot Dish.
We didn't have the Saints of my birth, but in a Scandinavian town we had stories of the Nordic Gods as told through books and stories-Frigidaire- god of ice fishing, Lesfse, the goddess of unseasoned food, and Inclement, the god of school closures due to all the snow you betcha. The homes were warm, and full of the scent of coffee cake. On our kitchen walls were brightly painted plaques with sayings in Swedish that probably translated to "Keep making fun of the lutefisk and we'll ship Socialism over there".

It was a good place to grow up, community both inside, and outside of the church. I remember Sunday service, the Communion cup glinting like a newly minted coin, the people around me that loved me like my own family, as from above, the bloodied and life sized Christ crowned with thorns looked down on us with forgiving eyes that had seen too much, his face, smooth and impenetrable. I'd take a sip of the cup, taking in the blood that contained an indomitable spirit which came from the fire that exists in us all, looking up at Jesus there on the cross with a conspiratorial nod and a silent thanks, having no other words.
I was raised with meals taken as a whole family, except for one night a week that we ate on TV Trays,  in front of the TV, a special treat on Friday if we'd behaved and performed well in school that week. It was always the same meal. A small piece of steak (from the steer we'd butcher each year), oven baked french fries, buttered toast, green beans and milk and a few slices of orange for dessert. I'm not really sure why we always had buttered white toast with our steak, but it would have seemed wrong if it was missing.

Even for those meals, as we set about to watch cowboys or spies save the world, we said Grace.

"Why pray?", someone asked me not too many years ago, "you did, and look at everything bad that's happened to you, people you loved whose days were numbered too few?" Can I say I never questioned God, in anger, wishing that he felt the same pain that I did, shoving my fury into the sky like a fist.
I married too young, to a Catholic, returning to my roots, I guess, and remember studying the many Saints, St.Wulfric, St. Fina, St Barbara. I looked St. Barbara up and it said that after her father whom she had loved and trusted had tortured and killed her, he'd been struck down by lightning. That likely explained why she became the patron saint of artillery and the protectress against sudden death. Years later, watching my then  husbands business fail yet again through inattention and excess and sporting bruises that hopefully did not show, I prayed to St. Barbara for some lightning, but my pleas went unheeded.

When I go back to my hometown now, I return to that same church I was raised in, with my Dad.  The people who loved me as a child, for the most part, are still there, though elderly. My piano teacher, in a nursing home now, but always open for a visit, my best friend's Mom, now widowed, another woman who sat by my Step mom's bed for days with Dad and I as she struggled in her last days, the people that drive my Dad to his doctor's appointments when we can not. There's comfort there in that community of saints.
As I sit in the pew, I look at my Dad, who has lived a life of total love, service and honor, sensing how his heart will soon fail him. It's a strong heart, a good heart, a railway station of life and blood, blue lines in and red lines out, switching tracks flawlessly for nine decades until one day there will be a derailment and the tracks will be silenced. He sees me looking at him and puts his hand on mine as we bow our head in the silence that is not silence but is innumerable.

Is that fair? Yet, he's had nine decades more than his first daughter, born in extraordinary perfection, simply too early and too small, the awful perfect prayer of his firstborn, who breathed only days, my mom rendered barren from the travail of the birth. Yet from that death came life, adopting children no one wanted, and soon the table was filled, with small hands, small hearts and much laughter.  "Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts. " and ""Mom he took my garlic bread!" and "May I please be excused?"

Had my parents closed off their hearts in that original loss, that table would have been silent.
I  believe that the Divine, force and free will are all intertwined. I have to bite my tongue when I hear of someone speaking of one who left us by other than natural causes, "it's so bad the Lord took him early" when all I can think is "you know, if he hadn't intentionally busted several laws of the State and physics he'd still be here, the Lord notwithstanding".  I don't dare say such things out loud but it makes me remember why Darwin was not made a Saint. God may watch over us, but he doesn't direct our every single thought and move. nor protect us from them.  We make choices through our own  free will, the bad ones we get through and carry with regret, hopefully still intact. God did not force those choices, he simply forgives them.

I've certainly had to ask for that forgiveness in my talks with God. For I talk to Him regularly, in the woods, hunting with my Browning, when the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly.  The words are less than wishes and more than regrets, and even if I didn't state them out loud,  I could hear them with my breathing as they gathered within the intent of breath and came forth in a rush of cold air, invisible words going up to an invisible God.
Sometimes He and I  talk as I'm sitting in a vehicle in the middle of a scene of dark desolation, ash in my hair, red smeared on my boots, as bold as if painted on a door frame, a sign, that for tonight, I was to be spared.  Perhaps this one time I did not save His sparrow which He perhaps neglected to mark, but I am here to reconcile the remains. It's just talk, but it's still a prayer; prayer being more than the order of words, the conscious calling of the mind that is speaking, or the sound of the voice praying. I do not expect to hear anything back, the communication between us tongued with fire beyond the blaze that is dying next to me. But it's comforting, words spoken into the void, penitence and belief, as all around hope is falling into embers. He may not respond, but He is there, Never and Always.

So I do not care if someone looks at me oddly if I bow my head. I only smile when someone says, how can you do that with all that you've seen, the pain and harm that man can inflict on one another?
But I can, for I have come to realize that the same God that seemed to sit silently while hearts ceased beating, also blew life into everyone else around me that I love deeply, now shaping their strong hands and putting spark in their vision. So it is, I don't clench my hands in anger in all that I've witnessed, have borne, but simply give thanks. God writes death on all our hearts, just as he writes life, our story penned as much by our actions as His creation, our heart a journal that only we keep, it's entries scribed by both man and God, it's ending as much as a mystery as we are.

I, for one, am thankful for the words.

It's time for a call to Big Bro. A year ago he was handed a death sentence and he is still here, despite all odds, fighting daily.  For how much longer we do not know, but this day is our day and we will cherish it.  Perhaps tonight, after we talk, I'll cook up a steak with some buttered toast and  we'll eat on a TV tray watching old Westerns. I look at the table on which rests my pistol, sitting quietly, waiting to protect me and others, when higher powers can not. I am blessed that I live in a country where my God given right to have that protection is recognized. But then again, I am blessed in so many ways.

With the meal I will say a prayer, of thanks for that and many things. For my Dad and his brave heart. For my brother, for healing, or comfort as healing is not likely.  For forgiveness of sin, for the blessing of the one that love mes, even in my imperfections.

Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts. . . .